WASHINGTON (AP) — Roger Wilkins, a historian, journalist and activist who held a key civil rights post in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration and helped The Washington Post win a Pulitzer for its Watergate coverage, died Sunday, relatives said. He was 85.
Wilkins, most recently a history professor at George Mason University, died at an assisted-living facility in Kensington, Maryland, said his wife, Patricia King, and his daughter, Elizabeth Wilkins. The cause of death was complications from dementia, they said.
His uncle Roy Wilkins was the longtime executive director of the NAACP. A lifetime later, his daughter Elizabeth worked in the presidential campaign of then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Wilkins said in spring 2008 that the presidential candidacies of a woman and a black man “would have been fodder for a fantasy movie” when he graduated from college 55 years earlier.
“Today, whatever our problems are, we have a vastly different and better country than the one we lived in in 1953,” Wilkins told University of Southern Maine graduates.
From the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, he worked in the Johnson administration, the Ford Foundation, The Washington Post and The New York Times. In his 1982 autobiography, “A Man’s Life,” he described the frustrations of being “the lead black in white institutions for 16 years.”
In a Washington Post review, famed author James Baldwin wrote that Wilkins “has written a most beautiful book, has delivered an impeccable testimony out of that implacable private place where a man either lives or dies.”
In 1965 Johnson tapped Wilkins to head the federal Community Relations Service, which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to mediate racial disputes and foster progress in black communities.
The New York Times said Johnson told him it would be “the toughest job ever given any Negro in the Federal Government. … You have one mandate — to do what is right.”
As many cities were racked by rioting in the mid-1960s, Wilkins advocated efforts…